On a recent visit to Hyderabad, I met Shweta, who works in the documentation centre of a TV channel. Daughter of a bus driver, she joined a training programme under the Andhra Pradesh government’s employment mission in 2006. Her annual salary has since increased from Rs 60,000 to Rs 2,00,000. Happily pregnant now, she told me, “What is best about the training and the job is it helped me get a husband who works in a private sector bank. I never dreamt of this kind of life for me back home.”
India loses $56 billion a year in earnings to adolescent pregnancy, higher-secondary school dropouts, and joblessness among young girls. An Indian School of Business study on the impact of providing skills to rural girls showed a rise in self-esteem, reduction in child marriage, and a better quality of life for their families. When women earn, they invest 90 percent of their income in families; for men it’s only 30-40 percent.
Economic empowerment of young girls is neglected in India. A study by strategic philanthropic foundation Dasra—Empowering Adolescent Girls in India—corroborates what I see on the field. There are agencies which do life skills and health training. But what seems to be missing is that step-up training they require to follow their career dreams.
At a workshop in Ranchi, organised by the Jharkhand government and the World Bank, block officers pointed out that girls who went through basic life skills and health education were asking, “What next?” In 2011, the Centre had conceived “Sabla” as a comprehensive scheme addressing the empowerment of adolescent girls through nutrition, life skills and vocational training. The model, however, requires co-ordination of various government departments (for funds) and grassroots workers etc.
India has set itself a policy target of helping skill 500 million youths by 2022 for jobs. Assuming only 40 percent of them are girls, the number still would be 200 million. Neglecting them could mean a demographic disaster. Providing skills to young girls needs holistic solutions to meet their special needs—modules which incorporate market-linked curriculum with health and life skills, flexibility in timings, financial literacy, and sensitive support mechanisms for first-generation organised sector workers. Lessons from the private sector in building gender diversity have to be included.
There is a sense of urgency for two reasons. More adolescent girls are enrolling in secondary education and need a last-mile connect to markets.
With NREGA money flowing into rural hands, mothers aspire for a different kind of life for their daughters. We need to design and implement a National Young Girls Skilling Mission. The time is now.
Meera Shenoy is a team member of the advisor to the PM’s National Council on Skill Development. She is also Senior Advisor, UNDP. Shenoy was instrumental in designing and executing the successful AP rural development’s employment mission. The views expressed by the author are personal.
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(This story appears in the 28 June, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)